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The Police Chief of Moscow (not one smart question).

In early June of 1992, six months after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, I traveled to Moscow to help a friend open a business college there.

Along with a handful of other businessmen, I spoke to a group of about 200 Russian entrepreneurs that had gathered to participate in the inauguration of the college.

That’s probably about all the entrepreneurs there were in Russia in June of 1992.

I spoke on the importance of market research and surveys as the foundation of effective marketing and PR campaigns and how to do them. This was pretty wild stuff to people who had lived under Communism all their lives where the state owned everything. And these guys were trying to understand the concept of “free enterprise” and the long held heretical concept of making a profit.

After the seminar speeches, I was in the lobby talking with attendees and some of the presenters. A man with a Stalinesque mustache approached me. He was in civilian clothes, but it turns out he was a Lt. Colonel in the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs – the MIA.

In structure, the MIA is similar to our Department of Justice, with emphasis on the FBI (and no Bill of Rights).

The man’s name was Ivanov. He said that he had enjoyed my talk on survey techniques and thought his superior at the Ministry would find the information of interest – would I be interested in meeting his boss to discuss the market research procedures that I had talked about.

Would I be willing to meet with his boss?

I looked at my wife, who was with me on the trip. She smiled and the next morning we were standing in front of a building whose very address had struck fear in the hearts of Russians for decades – the headquarters of the often dreaded

 Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs.


Headquarters of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs

Moscow, Russia.

We waited outside until a security detail arrived and escorted us inside. We walked down the dank cement hallways – security guards on both sides – the sound of our shoes echoing off of the bare walls.

No one spoke.

We walked up four floors – the 1950s vintage elevator was out of service – Ivanov brought us into the office of Col. Stanislav Pylov.

Pylov was the Director of Personnel for the MIA and oversaw the welfare of all police in the Russian Federation – about a million strong.

(All police in Russia are federal police, whether city, county or national. It would be like if every policeman in the United States was employed by the FBI.)

 I explained to Pylov that we had helped open a business college in Moscow and that Col. Ivanov thought we might be able to be of service

“What can we do for you?” I asked

Pylov was no dummy. He knew that for 70 years, the ministry’s primary communication line to the public had been a night stick, and that they had a PR problem. He explained that they’d had 356 policeman killed in the line of duty the prior year – police would go out on a call of some kind and the public – expressing their anger at decades of abuse – would shoot them.

“Can this survey technology help us with this problem?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said it could.

Pylov, a stout, balding man, in full military attire, stood up from behind his desk, walked to a cabinet and opened it. He removed a beautiful wooden clock and gave it to my wife. “This is a new day in relations between the United States and Russia,” he said.

The hair stood up on the back of my neck – Reagan, Gorbachev, On Target Research. (We still have the clock.?)

During the meeting, Pylov had invited me to brief some of the ministry’s management. There were 3,500 administrative personnel in the Ministry, this group, it turned out, was the top 50.

Ivanov told me that it normally took two weeks to get this group together, “But he’s done if for you in two days,” he said.

Two days later on a bright sunny morning, the kind that you don’t associate with Moscow, we stood in front of the Ministry again. This time the Vice Minister came down and escorted us up to a room which I later found out was a historical conference room. We got to the door, stopped and looked in. I was expecting guys in suits and ties. But the room was full of men in military uniforms adorned with more braid then a college marching band.

The Vice Minister motioned me to the front of the room. I walked to the podium and stood directly under a huge picture of Vladimir Lenin hanging on the wall behind me.

It was surreal.


Photo by Pavel Zhukov

I made my presentation through a translator. It was about the importance of understanding what one’s public needed and wanted by using surveys.

At first the attitude of the audience – many of whom had been Communists for decades and were now being “lectured” by some American capitalist – was unexpressed resentment.

(I later found out I was the first American to speak to this group.)

But by the time I was done with the talk, the room was actually interested in the information. When I finished, I asked for questions. There were a few and then a hand went up in the very back of the room. It was from the police chief of Moscow, and he asked a very perceptive question.

“How do you create the survey questions?” He asked.

Why is this a perceptive question?

Because the Police Chief of Moscow somehow knew that you couldn’t ask just any old question and necessarily get an honest answer. He may or may not have known that there is an actual technology to writing survey questions so that the respondents answers reflect their real opinions.

Many corporate surveys are “closed-ended” meaning you check a box. But the marketing gold can be found in “open-ended” questions that have the respondent answer in their own words.

And it is that information that makes the most powerful marketing pieces. 

Our surveys are almost entirely open-ended, something we have been doing for more than a quarter of a century. 

At any rate, I explained to the audience how the questions were created. After the talk, we shared brandy and snacks with the Vice Minister.  We later wound up doing surveys for the ministry, which is a fascinating story for another time.

The On Target Research work, simply put, changed the entire focus of our development company as to…branding and positioning. Very unfortunately, we wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars before we retained On Target Research. 

Based upon my experience with Bruce Wiseman, I would strongly recommend that you have him make a detailed presentation to your team. I am convinced that Bruce will ultimately save you many dollars in addition to enhancing the possibilities of you achieving your goals. JD President

Bruce Wiseman

President & CEO

On Target Research